Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another aspect in the aftermath of the Kirkwood shooting.

Many of you may remember I posted some matertial on the shooting in the Kirkwood, MO city hall chambers several weeks ago. As an update I should say that the mayor, who was shot twice in the head, has survived and is on the road to making a recovery. However, the shooting has brought to the surface the racial divisions that have been simmering in this suburb of St. Louis.

This little town has suffered many shocks in the recent years. The killing of a police officer by a distraught black teenager. (This young man has been sentanced to death for the crime on the same week that a white man, who killed his girlfriend, his two year old daughter and three others with a shotgun was sentanced to life imprisonment). The town was revealed to have sheltered a pedophile who kept a young man prisoner for 4 years and kidnapped another one who was discovered after being kept captive for a week.

As I said, its a shock. However, the shooting also brought forth a new problem. One of the victims of the shooting was running for mayor of the town. Her death has left only one candidate on the ballot and the city has refused to postpone the election which is scheduled for April 8th. The following column from the St. Louis Post-Dspatch details the issues which the shooting has brought forth:

Retired judge goes to bat for Kirkwood voters

James R. Dowd of Ladue retired in 2003 after a distinguished 23-year career as
a Missouri Court of Appeals Judge. Recently, he was approached by members of
the group "Kirkwood Coming Together For A Better Future." They sought his help
in an effort to postpone the April 8 municipal elections in Kirkwood.

The Kirkwood city attorney said the city charter prohibited postponing the
election. The St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners agreed.

Some members of the Brighter Future group supported mayoral candidate Connie
Karr, who was among those killed in the Feb. 7 shooting rampage at City Hall.
Karr's death left only one mayoral candidate on the ballot, Councilman Arthur
McDonnell. The group wants another candidate, who represents their interests,
added to the ballot.

Dowd researched legal cases that might support the group's position. He also
spoke with the board of elections. Steven Garrett, attorney for the board, said
that even if the elections were postponed, state statutes prohibited any
extension of the filing deadlines for new candidates.

Dowd maintains that the citizens of Kirkwood have been deprived of their
constitutional right to vote for a candidate of their choice. The actions of
Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, the man who killed Karr, should not determine

elections, he said.

"You don't have to be a lawyer or judge to understand this," said Dowd, adding
that Kirkwood officials, legislators or the election board could, and should,
petition the courts for a solution.

"The courts routinely find remedies that strike down statutes or ordinances
that impair access and the right to vote," Dowd said. "If the federal courts
conclude that the people's right to cast a meaningful ballot has been
compromised, it would be quick to furnish a remedy."

But Garrett doesn't believe the courts will supersede the state's statutes.
"There's no provision for opening up the filing. State statutes pretty much
imply that you stick with the same ballot."

Don't underestimate judges, Dowd said. They can recognize when laws are failing
to protect someone's voting rights, and they would respond accordingly.

He shared the words of a "wise old judge," J. Spalding of North Dakota, who
wrote in a court ruling: "In a republic the people are sovereign. They express
this sovereignty through the ballot. ... The elective franchise is the most
valuable right of the citizen, and should be most sacredly treasured by him and
sacredly protected by the courts."

In the case Dowd shared, Spalding sided with a plaintiff who was forced to
compete as a write-in candidate after refusing to pay a fee to have his name
printed on the ballot. This, Dowd said, is the real issue of debate in Kirkwood
— whether a write-in candidate is a constitutional alternative for voters.

Spalding addressed this issue as well: "We all know that the candidate whose
name is printed on the official ballot is the only one who, under any ordinary
circumstances, can be successful."

This might be depressing news to Kirkwood residents Dan Creesey and Milad
Abou-Nader. They recently filed as write-in candidates for mayor. When I called
to gauge their expectations, both men struck the same chord as Dowd.

"The way they are proceeding with this election amounts to something that would
be done in Cuba or Russia," Creesey said. "We all talk about the broken system.
Well, this is one thing we can change on a local level."

Abou-Nader, a Lebanese man who came to the United States from Israel more than
40 years ago, unsuccessfully ran for Kirkwood city council in 1998 and for
mayor in 2000. He's been a longtime critic of what he calls an "elitist"

"The constitution is the next best thing to the Bible," Abou-Nader said. "We
citizens of Kirkwood have a wall between us and the city. We must tear down
that wall."

Creesey, who works for a newspaper distribution service, insists he will resign
immediately after he's elected. That way, he said, the city will be forced to
have a "fair and legitimate election."

Members of Brighter Future said the organization didn't solicit the write-in
candidates, but applauded their efforts. Brighter Future member Nancy Luetzow
worries that the write-in candidates won't have time to mount a viable
campaign. And postponing the election would be difficult, too, given the cost
to make a legal challenge, she said.

Other members, such as Cindy Nouri, a dentist and Kirkwood resident, insist
something must be done to thwart a GOP power grab: "Garrett is a Republican
lawyer, John Diehl (commissioner of the county election board) was appointed by
a Republican Governor, (Matt) Blunt, and (city attorney John) Hessel is a
Republican. Do you see a pattern here?"

The charges are absurd, according to Garrett. As far as he knows, party
politics has nothing to do with the decisions regarding the election.

Dowd didn't offer an opinion about partisanship. He insists that the dispute
involves ordinances and statutes that obstruct voters, and that it should be
settled in court.

Dowd may not have offered an opinion on politics and power, but I found
something that did in the words of Spalding: "Two methods are recognized by
which persons may become candidates for office. In popular parlance they are
distinguished as the 'man seeking the office' and the 'office seeking the man.'"

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